The novel’s use of multiple points of view and stream-of-consciousness narration allows several characters to reveal themselves directly. Chapters narrated by Dewey Willson and his mother disclose their inner turmoil and add dimension to their characters. David Willson’s journal entries establish the longing and self-loathing of an otherwise silent and misunderstood man. Although Mister Leland and his father do not narrate chapters, their direct thoughts are divulged in interior monologues.
The ambiguous figure of Bennett Bradshaw is revealed by his speech, which is not only formal but also rather stilted. Accused of using a fake English accent, Bennett really echoes his family’s West Indian origin. When he shifts from this speech to the more familiar dialect of Sutton, Mister Leland immediately distrusts him: “Someone else’s voice was coming out of the man’s body.” Bennett’s dual speech pattern suggests that he is at home neither in the intellectual world of New York nor in the rural South. Although the novel centers on the actions of Tucker Caliban, no clear protagonist appears. Tucker is observed only through the eyes of other characters or through their memories. Consequently, Tucker is always seen, a small and determined figure, from a distance that cannot be traversed. He, like the African, becomes almost a figure of legend.
In fact, all viewpoint characters in the novel are white. African American characters are...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Each chapter of A Different Drummer concentrates on a unique point of view, so that the history of the state, of the Willsons, and of the Calibans is intricately pieced together by seeing how individuals have discovered and dealt with the relationships between blacks and whites. Tucker Caliban, for example, is approached obliquely— first through the story of his African ancestor, and then through the Lelands, father and son, who give a sympathetic but somewhat removed view of Caliban, a view that is available to the community but which it does not share because intimacy between the races is discouraged.
David Willson, the great-grandson of the general, gradually becomes the novel’s chief interpreter of Tucker Caliban’s actions. He has grown up with Tucker, seen an uncomplaining Tucker take a beating because he stayed out too late helping David learn how to ride a bike. Willson’s diary, covering the years from 1931 to 1957, reveals how he has tried to surmount the limitations of his Southern background. At college, he has befriended the radical Bennett T. Bradshaw, espoused Socialist causes, equal rights for blacks, and then come home to compromise his ideals when it becomes clear that he will not be able to support his family otherwise.
In many ways, Willson reflects his family’s ambivalent history. In “The African,” Dewitt Willson seeks to own the defiant black, but the master also admires the slave’s independence....
(The entire section is 484 words.)